coverLate last year this hefty volume arrived, and as I began to randomly dig around I knew it was something special. Since then I have read about half the chapters, and I am still pleased.

To place the book, it feels for me much like the ground work for Phyllis Tickle’s new release, Emergence Christianity. If you could interview the people who Tickle is writing about and hear their stories, stories and initiatives that are unfolding all over the world, you might wind up with something like The Gospel After Christendom.

David Fitch says of the book,

“TGoF is the broadest and most accessible global survey of emerging missional churches available today. It is filled with good analysis and insights as well as challenges to the imagination. Between its covers lies a glimpse into the future of the church.”

And Michael Frost says,

“Here’s proof that the emerging missional conversation is transcending the traditional ecclesial and cultural boundaries that so often limit the church’s ability to speak to itself and to have an impact on the world.”

On the Baker website they write,

“TGoF continues the themes that Ryan Bolger and Eddie Gibbs established formally in their critically acclaimed Emerging Churches and situates new church movements within this rubric. It explores what is happening today in innovative church movements in continental Europe, Asia, and Latin America and in African American hip-hop cultures.”

The book is divided into four major sections and features thirty contributors, including Ryan Bolger (editor) and Eddie Gibbs (afterword). The chapter listing is as follows:

I. Peoples
1. Iglesias Emergentes in Latin America Osias Segura-Guzman
2. Emerging Churches in Aotearoa New Zealand Steve Taylor
3. Emerging Missional Churches in Australia Darren Cronshaw
4. New Expressions of Church in Scandinavia Ruth Skree
5. New Expressions of Church in the Low Countries Nico-Dirk Van Loo
6. Fresh Expressions of Missional Church in French-Speaking Europe Blayne Waltrip
7. Emerging Christian Communities in German-Speaking Europe Peter Aschoff

II. Cultures
8. New Monastic Community in a Time of Environmental Crisis Ian Mobsby
9. Mission within Hybrid Cultures: Transnationality and the Glocal Church Oscar Garcia Johnson
10. Distinctly Welcoming: The Church in a Pluralist Culture Richard J. Sudworth
11. Our P(art) within an Age of Beauty Troy Bronsink
12. Mission Among Individual Consumers Stefan Paas
13. Mission in a New Spirituality Culture Steve Hollinghurst

III. Practices
14. Rethinking Worship as an Emerging Christian Practice Paul Roberts
15. Formation in the Post-Christendom Era: Exilic Practices and Missional Identity Dwight J. Friesen
16. Towards a Holistic Process of Transformational Mission Tobias Faix
17. Leadership as Body and Environment: The Rider and the Horse MaryKate Morse

IV. Experiments
18. The Underground: The Living Mural of a Hip Hop Church Ralph C. Watkins
19. Bykirken (The City-Church), Pray and Eat Andreas Østerlund Nielsen
20. House of Sinners and Saints Nadia Bolz-Weber
21. L’Autre Rive (the Other Bank or Shore) Eric Zander
22. With: An Experimental Church Eileen Suico
23. The Jesus Dojo Mark Scandrette
24. St. Toms: From Gathered to Scattered Bob Whitesel
25. Urban Abbey: The Power of Small, Sustainable, Nimble Micro-Communities of Jesus Kelly Bean

V. Traditions
26. Indigenous and Anglican: A Truly Native Church Emerges in the Anglican Church of Canada Mark MacDonald
27. Turning the Ocean Liner: The Fresh Expressions Initiative Graham Cray
28. On the Move: Towards Fresh Expressions of Church in Germany Markus Weimer

There are multiple voices from the major areas of the world where there are emerging missional expressions, areas which are experiencing this shock we call post-Christendom. Canada is not neglected, though only a single voice (chapter 26, Mark MacDonald) represents my homeland. Interestingly, the book opens with a Latin American voice writing on the “Iglesias Emergentes.”

Now I have to say something about the method that was used to compile these chapters, because it’s somewhat unique, and it works really well here. Granted, some reviewers (at the Englewood Review) find it distracting.

Individual chapters were sent out to the writing team, and commentary was invited. These comments are added to individual chapters in shaded boxes, and occasionally the original writer also responds to the comments. I found these comments generally illuminating, creating the sense of a conversation to which I was invited.

For example, Steve Taylor writes chapter 2, “Emerging Churches in Aotearoa New Zealand.” In the section on “leadership,” and quotes Mark Pierson reflecting on his role as a curator of worship: a context maker. Shortly afterward Troy Bronsink comments,

“The church that sees itself as curator is free to entrust the invitation or the inspiration to the unknown space of God’s realm, as well as the unknown space of the other — the individuals we encounter with curiosity who are unique and different from any projection of our best or worst selves…” (29)

Just a few weeks back I was talking with a denominational leader who was fretting about retention and attraction of young leaders. I mentioned the huge importance of participation: a value that resonates theologically through the New Testament in such places as 1 Cor.14, but is also implied in other parts of theology, from creation to the Trinity (creation: humankind as stewards and eschatologically as co-regents). Worship is a great place to practice participation, with various kinds of gifts contributing in the gathering. (Think Andy Crouch, “Culture-Making”).

Even missionally and culturally we need to explore new means of journeying together. In his chapter on emerging churches Steve Taylor hits it on the head on page 21, mission among the de-churched. “Groups began in various cites as places to share and learn.. this was not mission as conversion, but mission as walking alongside and offering safe, non-judgmental, open-ended discussion forums to enable people to explore issues related to faith and dissonance. Such groups were to be a space for transition rather than an end point..” Critical! We need to open a commons together as we journey in this strange new world with questions our parents never dreamed of. (See “six reasons” young people leave).

There really is a wealth of inspiration here. I recommend TGoF, one of the best books of 2012.

You can download a PDF excerpt on Baker’s page.

TGoF Video produced by Fuller Seminary. Stuart Murray post-Christendom interview.

1 Comment on the gospel after Christendom: new voices, new cultures, new expressions

  1. Sounds great, thanks for profiling it! Just ordered it.